It is ironic, isn't it? The fact that a season which has been marked as the centennial celebration for Syracuse lacrosse, perhaps the most storied collegiate program in the history of the sport, has turned into such a nightmare for the current edition of Orange men's lacrosse.
That was never more apparent than a week and a half ago, when Syracuse hosted the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in a Saturday evening content televised on ESPNU. The 'worldwide leader' brought their A-team of Eamon McAnaney, Quint Kessenich, and Syracuse alum Paul Carcaterra to broadcast the game.
The night before, Syracuse lacrosse hosted a gala dinner in downtown Syracuse to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first men's lacrosse team. Many of the program's biggest names were in the Loud House that Saturday to celebrate, including Roy Simmons Jr., Gary Gait, Casey Powell, and Ryan Powell. In total, more than 200 former players were on hand in front of a crowd of more than 9,000.
And then... the 2016 men's lacrosse team came out and lost by 10 goals to Notre Dame, their worst home defeat in 29 years. They got beaten by a Notre Dame team that looked more like the Syracuse of old than this Syracuse team did, scoring multiple goals in transition and running up the score.
Outside of the Notre Dame debacle, this Syracuse team has lost three other games. All of them by one goal, and all in overtime. Overtime can be a crapshoot in lacrosse. The name of the game is 'sudden victory', as we now call it (because death is too scary a word), and one false move can lead to a loss in the blink of an eye.
An 0-3 record in overtime games, however, shows that this team has trouble executing when it matters the most. An inability to get the job done in the big moments has been the downfall for this team in the past month.
If you're reading this article, there's a very good chance that you already know all about the struggles of this year's team. You've been frustrated by an offense that has much individual talent but goes through long stretches where they struggle to execute and score as a unit. You watched Ben Williams uncharacteristically lose the face-off battle in two straight games against Duke and Notre Dame. You've seen a defense look lost and give up easy goal after easy goal. You've scratched your head many times over the goalkeeper situation, the worst its been since the pre-John Galloway days.
And yet, despite all of the issues that this team has shown us, and there are many, their mediocre 6-4 record can be attributed in large part to their overtime failures.
Those games are behind them now, though. Nothing can be done to change those results or the precarious position in which Syracuse now finds themselves. So, the question is, what now for this Syracuse team?
After Tuesday's 10-9 loss to Cornell, the Orange currently sit at 6-4 with a RPI of 19 and a SOS of 23, according to Patrick Stevens's latest bracketology. Those are not the kind of computer numbers that look good on an at-large resume, especially when only eight at-large places are up for grabs.
What does this mean for Syracuse? It means that they are desperate for a big win to bolster their resume. Right now, the Orange's early season victories over Albany and Army are the only things holding their resume together. The problem is that those wins alone will not hold up all the way through the end of the season. Syracuse has more work to do to ensure themselves a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
The Orange have regular season games remaining against North Carolina, Binghamton, and Colgate. There is also the matter of the ACC Tournament, or the chance that Syracuse could be the odd team out and have to play Brown in the "showcase" game. The Binghamton (4-6) and Colgate (3-8) games will do nothing for Syracuse's resume. In fact, their very presence on Syracuse's schedule will hurt the Orange's SOS even if they win.
That means that this weekend's home matchup with North Carolina and the upcoming ACC Tournament weekend are the two opportunities the Orange have to pick up a big win, which they must do at least once. If Syracuse cannot defeat UNC this weekend, then they may have put themselves in the position of needing to win the ACC Tournament to make it into the NCAA Tournament.
That's a difficult notion to swallow for Syracuse lacrosse fans. For a team that has made every NCAA Tournament since they won their first NCAA Title back in 1983 except for one (the horror show that was 2007), it is borderline unthinkable that Syracuse could be in a late-season fight just to get into the tournament.
It turns out that 11 NCAA Titles doesn't guarantee you anything. When your defense is a mess and you're heading into your biggest game of the season with a goaltender who has two career starts, and when your offense can only muster 9 goals after your face-off specialist wins 82% of the draws in the game, you've got problems that the ghosts of Syracuse Lacrosse Past cannot fix.
At the end of the day, this Syracuse lacrosse team is what it is. A team with some unquestioned individual talent that has had trouble coming together as a group. They are mediocre in almost every way. The results, whether big wins or close wins, overtime losses or a big blowout against Notre Dame, are the representation of this team. They are an inconsistent group who have struggled to put it all together for most of this season. They will need to do just that if they are to end this season in the NCAA Tournament.
Evan Molloy may have unknowingly summed it all up after the loss to Cornell. "I think we're fine," the Orange goalie said. That's right. You are fine, and that's the problem. 'Fine' will not get you into a tournament that only has room for 18. You need to be more than that.